San Antonio resident Jamie Barrientos could not believe what he was watching.
The commercial from a local mattress company opened with a woman asking excitedly, “What better way to remember 9/11 than with a Twin Towers sale?”
Behind her were two men. And behind them were two stacks of mattresses, piled high to resemble twin office buildings.
Atop one of the mattress towers was a small American flag.
“Right now you can get any size mattress for a twin price!” the woman said, to the feigned shock of her associates.
After her pitch, the woman held both arms out, as if to say: Ta-da!
The two men pretended to get knocked off balance and fell backward into the piles of mattresses, causing them to collapse and tumble to the floor.
As everything fell behind her, the woman screamed dramatically, then turned back toward the camera.
“We’ll never forget,” she whispered.
Grabbing his phone, Barrientos recorded the commercial and uploaded it to YouTube, then Reddit.
He was shocked, he said, that a business would make light of 9/11 to promote a mattress sale.
“I thought it was offensive and distasteful,” Barrientos told The Washington Post. “Even if the event happened 15 years ago, lots of people died. I don’t know what compels someone to post a video like that … and not think about what you’re doing and the families that you’re going to affect with your ad.”
As the video spread, the backlash was immediate.
“Are you f——- kidding me? Do they think this is a joke?” one person wrote in a YouTube comment. “Over 3,000 Americans were killed. And they are simulating how the TWIN TOWERS were Destroyed. Then she says ‘We will never forget what a total lie.”
Hours later, the video was pulled from the Miracle Mattress Facebook page.
In that same space, Mike Bonanno, the company owner, posted an apology letter.
“I say this unequivocally, with sincere regret: the video is tasteless and an affront to the men and women who lost their lives on 9/11,” Bonanno wrote Thursday. “Furthermore, it disrespects the families who lost their loved ones and continue to struggle with the pain of this tragedy every day of their lives. All I can say is I am deeply sorry and on behalf of the entire Miracle Mattress family, I accept responsibility for this thoughtless and crude advertisement and will immediately hold my employees accountable for this serious lapse of decency.”
Several attempts to call a number listed for Miracle Mattress led only to busy signals Friday morning.
The company also left a Facebook post open for people to leave comments with “opinions and reactions to respect an open and transparent discussion regarding the video that caused much embarrasment [sic] and anger.”
People did not hold back.
“I find it hard to believe you knew anyone or any of your employees knew anyone who lost their lives in 9/11!” wrote Evelyn Sainz Jauregui. “If that were the case they would have been so disgusted with your commercial that it would have never seen the light of day! You should be ashamed!!!!!”
She followed her comment with a trail of angry emoji.
The commercial was no more than 30 seconds long. The damage done may last much longer.
By Friday morning, Miracle Mattress was overrun with new one-star reviews on Yelp and Google.
“I WILL NEVER forget that horrible and offensive 9/11 commercial you aired along with that dumb smirk on your face,” a San Antonio resident wrote in one review. “Just disgusting and vile and I hope your actions put you out of business permanently.”
Wrote another Yelp user: “Please take a good hard look at yourselves and reevaluate what you think is ‘funny’. I’m glad you apologized, but that kind of ignorance is rooted somewhere deep. It seems that you need to be taught that 9/11 is not a joke or a marketing ploy, now or ever. TRAGEDY IS NOT FUNNY.”
On Friday afternoon, those who told the business they should shut down got their wish. The mattress store put out a statement saying it would be “closed indefinitely.”
“We will be silent through the 9/11 Anniversary to avoid any further distractions from a day of recognition and remembrance for the victims and their families,” the statement said. “We take full responsibility for our actions and sincerely regret the hurt and pain caused by this disrespectful advertising campaign.”
The company also said it would deliver a public statement next week highlighting “accountability actions taken within the company.”
Samantha Najera, a spokeswoman for Miracle Mattress, confirmed that the woman in the commercial is the daughter of company owner Mike Bonanno. Najera also cautioned others to avoid fake social media accounts that have sprung up pretending to speak on behalf of the mattress store.
“Miracle Mattress… will not be engaging in any personal attacks or responses on any social media platform,” the statement said.
As Travis M. Andrews wrote in The Post this week, as the 9/11 anniversary approached:
… many Americans are preparing themselves for a day of reflection. For some, it will involve mourning. For others, it will be an opportunity to look forward.
But for some folks who work in marketing, it’ll be another chance to do a little #branding.
Each year, companies across the United States employ remarkably tone-deaf marketing strategies that somehow reference 9/11.
This year is no different, as evidenced by a Coca-Cola display prominently erected in the middle of a Walmart in Panama City Beach, Fla.
The display is composed of 12 packs of Coca-Cola original (red boxes), Diet Coke (silver boxes) and Sprite (blue boxes) arranged in the shape of a giant American flag. Before the flag stands two large rectangles composed of 12 packs of Coke Zero (black boxes), which are clearly meant to represent the twin towers.
Hanging above the display is a banner bearing both Coca-Cola and Walmart’s logos. Over an image of the pre-9/11 New York City skyline are the words “We Will Never Forget,” and in the top right corner is “9-11-01.”
Under the banner is a sign announcing that Coca-Cola 12 packs are on sale for $3.33. “Rollback,” the sign states.
A company spokesman told the Orlando Weekly that the display, which was conceived by Coca-Cola and approved by Walmart, was being taken down, Andrews reported, adding:
Neither Walmart nor Coke is the first company to come under fire for invoking the national tragedy as a means to sell stuff.
Each year, companies roll out deals and tweets associated with the attacks, and each year they face a tidal wave of backlash and outrage in response.